St. George and the Dragon, by Raphael.

As I have often stated, one of my favorite artists is the great Italian Renaissance painter, Raphael. Once considered one of the greatest painters, if not the greatest painter of all time, he fell out of favor in the twentieth century. The abstract modernism popular with so much of the art of the last century, with all its nihilistic themes, was in complete contrast to the calm, harmonious classicism of Raphael’s works. The result was Raphael’s critical demise. And yet, for whatever strange reasons, I have always found Raphael’s works inherently pleasing and beautiful, even uplifting, and most modern art completely repulsive and depressing. This has been true my entire life, from the time I first became interested in art in my teens.

The above painting is St. George and the Dragon (ca. 1506). St. George is traditionally the patron saint of England, and one of his exploits was killing a dragon. Of course, chivalrous knights slaying dragons is de rigueur in most medieval legends. Still, what I enjoy about this particular work is its heroic yet harmonious atmosphere: George is slaying the dragon, yet he seems to be doing so effortlessly. His horse is reared in an epic fashion, with an expression that is almost Homeric, while the demure maiden watches coyly in the background. This could quickly become maudlin, yet in the hands of a master like Raphael, the work seems to tap into the great tradition of heroic narratives, both spoken and painted. Since I also enjoy the great epic poetry of Greece and Rome, namely Homer and Vergil, this painting by Raphael is a great visual representation of what both those two ancient poets achieved in their verse.

This painting is found in the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, along with a few other of Raphael’s works. One cannot fully appreciate a great work of art without being face to face with it, and one of my fondest memories is appreciating this piece one day in an empty room in the National Gallery. It is actually quite a small painting, but I was able to get quite close to it, and study the details without any distractions. Such moments are always nice when it comes to enjoying good art.

I love beauty in all its forms, and this painting definitely exudes beauty. There is something about works like this which simply soothe the soul.